Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments PS4 Review: The Best Detective Game Ever Made?

By Alex Riviello , Updated Sep 30, 2014 12:00 AM EDT
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Crimes and Punishments is the best Sherlock Holmes game ever made.

That’s not light praise- Indie studio Frogwares has been making Sherlock Holmes games for quite a while now, as this is actually the eighth (!) title in a series that has seen Mr. Holmes facing everything from Jack the Ripper to Lovecraftian beasties.

Of course, not all of them have been great, and the producers of Frogwares themselves have even admitted that they had no idea how to make a game before they started the studio over a decade ago. It’s clear that they’ve learned on the job, though, as they have gotten better and better with each installment, leading to this, which gives you all the tools you need to feel like you're in the Victorian CSI. The idea of examining evidence and playing detective appeal to you? You will love this game.

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As Sherlock you will solve six different and varied cases, although they all generally involve a murder of some sort. (It may have been the Victorian era, but people are people, and people kill people.) In order to deduce what happened you’ll interrogate suspects, look for evidence, hunt down clues in your archives and perform science experiments in your lab. You’ll even change up your appearance a couple of times- Holmes is supposedly the master of disguise, after all.

As the first installment for next-gen systems, this is also the first in the series to abandon Frogwares’ proprietary engine and go with the Unreal Engine 3 (perhaps due to Epic’s cheap new subscription plans and deals for indie devs), which means that it’s by far the best-looking installment to date. On the PS4 it looks wonderful, employing all kinds of dynamic lighting and atmospheric effects. It's nothing that you'll use to show off the power of your new console but it more than does the job, and lets you get a nice look at character’s faces and demeanors to see if they’re telling the truth, and catch them in a lie if they’re not.

The voice acting is superb as well, Sherlock being as cocky and all-knowing as usual. He’s played with a bit of an edge this time and his eccentricity is played up- this is the kind of guy who samples poison just because he wants to see the effect it has upon him, knowing that Watson will be there eventually to save him.

The cases are a joy to solve, the detective-work is the clear highlight. You’ll examine murder scenes, using Sherlock’s hightened senses (sort of an thermal vision) to find clues the other cops have overlooked, as well as use his imagination to see ghostly visions of the events take place and better understand what transpired. The non-stop investigations are broken up nicely by varied tasks that sees you doing everything from performing autopsies to using your faithful dog Toby to hunt down scents. There’s a bit more backtracking through locations than make sense (how fast can that horse-drawn carriage pull you around London?) but thankfully any issue with loading times is alleviated by the fact that you can examine your evidence and make deductions while you’re travelling.

The problem with adventure games that have you investigating crimes is that there’s usually only one outcome, and you either solve it, or you don’t. Not so with Crimes and Punishments. Here there’s usually at least two different suspects (sometimes as many as five!) and the murder method and motive has many variables as well. For instance- in one murder that takes place inside a Roman bathhouse- did the killer craft a knife made of ice, or silver? There was a chunk of melted silver found in the brazier but what was that ice bucket doing there?

As you start to find clues and connect evidence you'll start to arrange everything into something resembling a theory- seen as synapses firing in Sherlock's large brain. You'll see if various theories match up or not, and once they all start to point in the right direction a suspect will emerge.

But the best part is- you don’t ever have to know if you were right if you don’t want to. If you are meticulous in your search and look over all the evidence careufully you will find the correct culprit/s, but it’s easy to look at things from multiple angles. Even after deciding who the culprit is you then have to decide to do with that information. Do you put away the murderer, who will surely be hanged for his crime; or do you let him escape since you believe it was done in self-defense?

After each case you can choose to see what the “correct” outcome for the case was but the game itself will warn you that spoiling it may ruin your enjoyment of the game. Sometimes it’s better not to know.

(Speaking of not knowing, don't look at the achievments/trophies if you want to stay spoiler-free! For some reason they didn't hide them and there's some explicit giveaways in there!)

If you could say anything about the game, is that it doesn’t offer enough. A lot of the experiments and mini-games only offer one outcome and unlimited chances, taking away much of the challenge. Experiments lead you by the hand instead of letting you experiment, although there are a number of small puzzles. But the "master of disguise" has only two moments that require him to play dress-up and don new wigs and clothes, and even then it has to be a specific style or it won't even let you attempt the next section.

One other problem is that the six cases really feel like just that- six seperate cases. It really feels like a bunch of short stories rather than a complete game with an overarching storyline. There’s a bit of a climax to the last case but it feels shoehorned in and completely unearned. You just learned about this plot so it doesn’t have half the impact it would have if you had found out about it earlier.

That doesn’t lessen the impact of the cases before it, however. This is undoubtedly the closest anyone has ever gotten to replicating what it would be like to be a master detective, and fans of adventure games shouldn’t hesitate to dive right in. It's by far the best Sherlock Holmes game Frogwares has created and one can only hope that they continue to add new features and hone the experience for the series, as there’s no limit to the amount of Sherlock Holmes games they could create. 

Getting here may have not been elementary, but the game is finally afoot.

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Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is available for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC both in retail and as a digital download. This review was written based on a complete playthrough with the PS4 version from a code provided by the publisher. Not all the suspects arrested were the right ones.

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